WTO gives birth to its first trade agreement in 20 years

When just a month remains to the twenty first birthday of the World Trade Organization, the multilateral body has ratified its first decision since its establishment in 1995.  At the General Council held on 27th of November, at Geneva, the members agreed on two critical issues –the Trade Facilitation Agreement and an agreement on public stock holding of food grains for food security purposes. Besides this, the Council has also decided to go ahead with the post-Bali work programme.

The Geneva General Council was historic because of the agreement on trade facilitation. The TFA is expected to reduce procedural hurdles in trade. It was the core agenda of the Bali Ministerial Conference which took place nearly a year back.

A major criticism against the organization was that it has not taken even a single decision since its birth in 1995. As a trade promotion body, the members behaved like coalition partners with conflicting interests. The relevance of the institution was questioned at Bali where the ninth Ministerial Conference was held in December 2013. Failure at Bali without getting even a mild trade promotional agreement like the TFA means the end of this first multilateral intuition dedicated for international trade. At Bali, many members do not had much interest in WTO led multilateral trade regime; rather they are fans of regional trade blocs like APEC. They reached at Bali for a funeral ceremony of the WTO.

Though the TFA was agreed at the extended session at Bali, later it was blocked because of India’s insistence of getting a permanent solution for the country’s food security programme. But recently, a breakthrough on the matter was made as India and the US agreed on accommodating the food security related food procurement in Agreement on Agriculture.  US Trade Representative Michael Froman has pointed out the role of India-US dialogue on the matter. The WTO General Council’s decisions at Geneva “endorse the approach agreed upon by the United States and India,” he observed.

Achievement of the institution on TFA and food security is widely welcomed. While congratulating the members the Director General Roberto Azevedo has commented that “WTO work is back on track.”

Welcoming the agreement, the IMF has commented that the decision will provide an opportunity for advancing multilateral trade negotiations in other areas which is essential for global growth.

But the happiest of all is India. The emerging economy with heavy weight on many fronts has largely determined the course of developments. At the same time the country’s stand on food security which its ideological dimensions has prevailed in the multilateral body. Minister of Commerce Ms Nirmala Sitharaman who angrily asked ‘what is trade distortion if India is feeding its poor?’, has commented at the Parliament that the WTO’s agreement is a recognition to the country’s stand on food security and trade. 


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